The Power in the Music

I almost always cry when attending concerts. Usually at some moment there is something so beautiful or just so intense that it makes me cry. Or sometimes the music makes me think of something or someone that carries a lot of emotional weight. I’m thankful for dark concert halls and try to be dry eyed before the lights come up. But performing a concert is a different matter. We’re supposed to know the power of the music and feel it and channel it but – we’re just conduits, not sponges. Besides, getting all emotional only mucks up the body’s ability to do its job which is play the rhythms and the pitches and add just the right expression to tell the story the composer was trying to tell. It’s hard to read lines of sixteenth notes with tears in your eyes. I can’t imagine being a wind player or singer on the verge of bursting into tears. So, there’s usually a certain amount of distance between the performer and what the audience experiences – a kind of detachment.

But it does creep up on me sometimes. Last year I while performing I saw a woman in one of the front rows weeping during a long beautiful stretch of music that I had many measures rest. I had no idea what she was feeling or thinking but just seeing her cry made me cry, too. It just happened. Today while playing the Verdi Requiem at Duke I could not help but think of a friend I saw sitting in the front of the balcony before the concert started. She used to be a nun – enough right there to make a special connection with this wonderful piece. But also, her son had recently died; a sudden, unexpected death. I could not see her during the concert but there were several moments I knew she must be crying. And I cried, too. I knew her son – a very special young man who died too early. And then I thought of my mother – in hospice for months now but hanging on by some thin thread that she’s reluctant to sever. Thoughts one should not be having during a concert counting measures, trying to carefully place bow and fingers, stay in sync with all the wonderful musicians around me. But sometimes it can’t be helped. The notes were hard to read, nose dripping, tears running down my face onto my tuxedo.

I am always surprised that I never hear my co-workers talk of these things. Maybe none of them have this problem. But then again, what would they say? What words are there? Occasionally I see a look in another musician’s eyes after the performance and I know that they were there, too. But it’s rare. It’s all hustle and bustle to get packed up and out the door. Quick words of praise and “see you next time!”s. Some grumbling about this and that but mostly it just seems like any other group of people who just got off work and are anxious to get home and do something they enjoy. It’s a strange place we have to put ourselves into to do this work well. But somebody’s got to do it.